Franklin — Just weeks after her 19-year-old son, Brian, died of a heroin overdose in January while he was a fifth-semester college student, Darlene Collins joined a group of local parents and professionals in a new anti-drug and alcohol initiative targeting high school students and their parents.
"I just wanted to help people understand how powerful drugs and alcohol can be and what can eventually happen," Collins said, adding that she has "not fully processed" her loss. "Drugs and alcohol are so addictive and this is happening in your own backyard."
Franklin Area Parents United, officially formed last September, aims at de-glorifying the "coolness" of drugs and alcohol for students and demystifying the approaches on how to deal with various aspects of the issue for parents.
"We have been studying the alcohol and drug issue for the past four to six years before forming FAPU," says Mark Finne, Franklin High School's social worker.
Finne says the school has shifted its emphasis from merely expelling students who are impaired to prevention and positively addressing specific incidents.
The issues are complicated because of the spectrum of available drugs, the fact that the issue affects private as well as public school students and that mobile youth attend parties and other gatherings outside of Franklin.
In fact, there are a number of "Parents United" groups throughout Milwaukee's suburbs.
"Our FAPU meetings are attended by parents, local law enforcement and health department officials and local aldermen," Finne said. "We have presentations by professionals from Wheaton Franciscan Services and Aurora Healthcare who provide information about the effects of drugs and alcohol. We also break into groups to come up with new ideas.
"This is all in the earliest stages, but we want it to grow."
Tools of the effort
Growth will occur, he said, through communication and commitment, because parents need to be connected to each other so that they can know what is going on with their children, who often wind up at the home of a friend.
Commitment comes in the form of a pledge signed by parents who agree to encourage constructive activities, chaperoning youth, supporting reasonable curfews and being a positive adult role model.
Technology is a vital tool, according to Finne and the FAPU's parent leader, Marie Grabek.
"Parents use cell phones, and text messaging to keep up with their children, but they can communicate with other parents the same way," Grabek said. "We use email to let parents know how to have safe parties and we are working on a Facebook page that will be for the friends of FAPU."
Grabek said parents and students need to work together to enforce positive life choices in their children. Her daughter, Kylie, in involved with Students Against Drunk Driving and Peers with IMPACT, whose members visit elementary and middle school classes to address positive choices.
FAPU meetings are held from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month at the Franklin Public Library, 9151 W. Loomis Road. Among the business items on April 14 will be to decide on an official organization logo from entries submitted by local students.
FAPU also plans to have a public presence this summer with a booth promoting membership at community events such as Franklin Safety Day on June 4 and the city's July 4 celebrations.
For more information about FAPU, call Finne at Franklin High School, (414) 423-4640.
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